Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Not So End

One of the best things about any extended practice - in my case, writing - is the things you learn about yourself. In this particular case, I've noticed a fascinating pattern in my short stories. I don't like to write short stories that really, really end. In some cases, they don't really begin, either. I seem addicted to those stories that are slices of greater stories, the past elegantly implied through masterful explication, the ending elegant and satisfying, but with a hint of further narrative.

There are three reasons I'm not surprised. The first is that I suck at endings. I always have, and they will probably always be the part of a story that I find most difficult. Beginnings are easy for me, I just pick out a suitably dramatic moment and go. Endings... endings always awkward, though. Does the narrative just stop? Do I end with a line of dialogue, a description of the sunset, a narrative musing? How do things end, anyway? So, it's not shocking that when it comes to short stories, I find a way to end the piece without really ending the story.

Secondly, I know myself to be primarily a novelist. All my best ideas first occur to me as extended epics, both personal and fantastic. Some of them I file down to short stories - especially in the context of my Burning Rejection Challenge - but they always remain contextualized by the conditions that gave them birth. Specifically, a longer story.

Finally, I'm not surprised because my one-shots are the same way. Roleplaying style isn't always an indicator of writing style, but in this case, it's dead on. I never run totally self-contained one-shots. They always feel like a first episode or a juicy cut from the center, satisfying, self contained, but implying more.

Sometimes I take the philosophical view: nothing really ends and nothing really ends. Every beginning is just a matter of point of view, not "when does it start" but rather "when did I start paying attention." I kind of like that rather than pretending that reality is neater and cleaner than it really is, my stories embody that reality.

That said, I don't know if stories that work this way are satisfying. If they are, I'm quite content to keep on writing the way I have been... except, of course, that stories still need to have endings, and I'd like mine to be more elegant. I also don't know if stories that work this way really are as satisfying as I hope they are (and find them myself). I'd hate to be doing something people think is annoying and dressing up a bad habit as a virtue (which is something I find annoying).

Fortunately, though, essays do have endings, and that brings us to it. I'd love to hear your answers to my prompts - or just your thoughts on the topic in general- below. Until then, farewell.

• • •

  • Do you think this is a serious flaw, or are stories that don't really end as satisfying (or more so?) than stories that end definitively.
  • What kind of short stories do you prefer?
  • What advice do you have for getting more comfortable with endings?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A major flaw? No.
Annoying? Frequently, yes.

The basic triangle-shaped plot structure, representing the beginning, middle, and end of a story, was described by Aristotle. Gustav Freytag modified Aristotle’s system by adding a rising action and a falling action to the structure. This interactive version of the graphic organizer supports both Aristotle’s and Freytag’s conceptualizations of plot structures.

Do your stories follow that? may also be of some assistance.

"and they got married & lived happily ever after"

the end.